Just how many children were abused in the Islington children’s home abuse scandal, and why did hundreds of children’s files mysteriously disappear in Islington ?
And yet more than three decades on we still do not know the truth …..
The main paedophile at the centre of the Islington child abuse scandal went on to abuse children across three continents.
Had allegations against Bernie Bain, the former head of the children’s home, been properly investigated and believed by Margaret Hodge in the 1980s countless children would have been spared
But was he the only paedophile to abuse those children? We think not, and furthermore we believe a paedophile ring made up of influential people from backgrounds such as the police and politics were instrumental in the systematic abuse
Margaret Hodge was the leader of Islington Council at the time, and went onto become Minister of State for Children. When she was alerted to the investigation she complained to the Chairman of the BBC. In the letter she attacks a victim of abuse as an ‘extremely disturbed person’.
All right-thinking people like to imagine, when hearing stories of the maltreatment and or sexual abuse of children in care, that they themselves would guarantee sanctuary. But often they simply don’t. A senior social worker, Liz Davies, and her manager, David Cofie, first told Margaret Hodge, then leader of Islington council, in 1990 of their suspicions that there was widespread sexual abuse of children in Islington care homes. Hodge did NOTHING to help those kids and instead turned her back ! More on that further down ……
Margaret Hodge MBE MP (née Oppenheimer; born 8 September 1944), formally styled The Rt Hon Lady Hodge MBE MP by virtue of her appointment to the Privy Council and her late husband’s knighthood, is a British Labour politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for Barking since 1994. She was the first Minister for Children in 2003 and was Minister of Statefor Culture and Tourism at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. On 9 June 2010 she was elected Chair of the Public Accounts Committee
Second husband and his affiliation to the paedophile information exchange
Hodge divorced in 1978 and in that same year she married Henry Hodge (later Sir Henry), going on to have two daughters. Sir Henry Hodge was a fellow Labour Borough Councillor and in 1974 became Chairman of the National Council for Civil Liberties who went on to become a High Court judge.
Sir Henry Egar Garfield Hodge, OBE – Second husband
By 1978, PIE, the Paedophile Information Exchange and National Council for Civil Liberties had already been affiliated for three years. (just one year after Hodge became chairman) Another group, Paedophile Action for Liberation, a Gay Liberation Front offshoot, had also been affiliated to NCCL until it was absorbed by PIE. PIE, which campaigned for adults to have sex legally with children, only broke off its relationship with NCCL when it went undercover in 1982. Sir Henry Hodge died in 2009
More on P.I.E (Paedophile Information Exchange) here including Patricia Hewitt – Former Secretary of State for Health and MP Harriet Harman’s involvement
Islington Council and Child abuse controversy
Hodge was elected as a councillor for the London Borough of Islington in 1973. Hodge was appointed MBE in 1978. However, the end of her period at Islington, before taking up her parliamentary career, was marred by criticism of her response (in 1985) to serious child abuse allegations.
In 1985, Demetrious Panton complained about abuse that he had suffered while in the council’s care in the 1970s and 1980s. He did not receive an official reply until 1989, in which the council denied responsibility.
Channel 4 News on Islington Children’s Homes (Demetrious Panton interview)
In 1990, Liz Davies, a senior social worker employed by the borough and her manager, David Cofie, raised concerns about sexual abuse of children in Islington Council care. Correspondence between Hodge and the director of social work indicates that she declined a request for extra resources to investigate. In early 1992, Davies (not to be confused with the barrister and former Islington councillor) resigned from her post and requested that Scotland Yard investigate the allegations.
The Evening Standard then began reporting on the allegations of abuse in Islington’s children’s homes, shortly after which Hodge resigned to pursue a career with Price Waterhouse. In 1995, the “White Report” into sexual abuse in Islington Care Homes reported that the council had failed adequately to investigate the allegations.
In 2003, following Hodge’s appointment as Minister for Children, Demetrious Panton went public with his allegation that he was abused in Islington Council care and had repeatedly raised this issue with no effect. He accused Hodge of being ultimately responsible for the abuse that he suffered. Davies also went public with the issues that she had raised concerns about while working for the council.
Following a media campaign conducted by several national newspapers calling for her to resign from her new post, she responded to Panton by letter, in which she referred to him as ‘extremely disturbed’. Panton then passed the letter to the press which planned to publish it, only to be judicially restrained from doing so at the instruction of Hodge. The letter was eventually published, mainly on the grounds that the blocking of the letter was seen as disproportionate. Hodge was forced to publicly apologise and offered to contribute to a charity of Panton’s choosing as recompense
A backbencher added. “She’s ruthlessly ambitious and seen as insincere. It’s ludicruous to claim she wasn’t aware of child abuse in the early 90s, and I just question why she wasn’t listening to the children. That apology was motivated by political expediency and people don’t see how she can survive.”
Sexual abuse of children
Demetrious Panton was abused in care. In 1978 he fell victim to a man called Bernie Bain, the head of a children’s home in the London Borough of Islington.
“He forced me into his bedroom, took off his dressing gown, um, I … I remember saying to him I don’t want this, I don’t want it, and I was 11, He was a brute, he was uncontrollable and there was just no escape, and that’s the best way to describe it, there was no escape and you just managed the situation as best as you could. You managed him and the situation and you protected yourself.”
But it was 17 years before a police investigation uncovered the true extent of the abuse. Detective Superintendent John Sweeney led the inquiry.
“I was deeply affected by taking some of the statements,” Det Supt Sweeney said. “It’s quite clear that he was a habitual sexual abuser. The abuse was extremely violent and we are talking about children, seven, eight year old boys, and for those individuals there’d be no-one more sadistic. So I formed the opinion that he was gonna be someone that was probably doing it now – at that time in 1995 elsewhere – so I had to try and find him.”
1995: Bain had been at large for at least 17 years. Demetrious Panton first made allegations against him in 1979, but no other children would talk and the case was dropped. Islington Council was off the hook. As for Bernie Bain it was a close call and although he left social services he was still free to pursue an abusive career which was to span three decades and cross three continents.
The tragedy is that it should never have happened. In 1985 Demetrious – just turned 18 – wrote to Islington Social Services. He wanted to go to the police again. He wanted the council to back him.
After four and a half years social services finally wrote to Demetrious. The two page letter, which has been described as little more than a brush off, urges him to “move on from those unhappy times”.
Nicholas John Rabet, former deputy superintendent of the council’s home in Grosvenor Avenue had links with the paedophile ring on Jersey. He escaped prosecution because of the then council’s gross mismanagement of the scandal and fled to Thailand.
14-year-old Jason Swift, killed in 1985 by a paedophile gang, is believed to have lived in Islington council’s Conewood Street home.
Paedophile rings that may or may not been involved with the sexual abuse of children in Islington
I am writing to you directly about an investigation … into a matter concerned with Islington Council … I now understand from a number of sources that Angus Stickler of the Today programme has been investigating the case of Demetrious Panton. Mr Panton is an extremely disturbed person who suffered from child abuse in Islington homes in his youth in the 1960s, 20 years before I became leader of the Council.”
On a point of accuracy, Demetrious Panton was abused in the late 70s, not the 1960s. The letter is addressed to the BBC’s Chairman, Gavyn Davis and copied to the Director General, Greg Dyke, the Director of News, Richard Sambrook, the Today programme Editor, Kevin Marsh and a firm of solicitors. It accuses the Today programme of having “scant balance” in previous broadcasts. And on the basis of conversations with her former colleagues, criticises my current investigation.
THE LETTER CONTINUED:
“His sole interest in the matter appears to be connecting me with the circumstances of Mr Panton’s case … if the position is that a news item is being developed with the intention of connecting a Government Minister to the story for the sake of sensationalism then I think it is deplorable.”
Mrs Hodge asks Gavyn Davis to investigate personally. Her letter also refers to High Court Proceedings issued back in 1996 against Channel 4 News for an item about child abuse in Islington. Channel 4 apologised.
In 1992, 13 years after his original complaint, Demetrious went to talk to Margaret Hodge in person. He attended her surgery, but she wasn’t there. The newly elected councillor Stephen Twigg was standing in on her behalf. He too now of course is also a Government Minister.
This was a high-profile case. Social services chiefs, the council’s legal department, even it’s insurers had been alerted. In the absence of any documents naming Margaret Hodge I asked the council’s former Chief Executive and Chair of Social Services if they told her. They simply cannot remember.
In 1995 Demetrious finally decided to go to the police himself. Detective Superintendent John Sweeney launched a full and thorough investigation.
“When we approached individuals they made allegations themselves,” Det Supt Sweeney said. “It was just ‘were you in care at the time?’, and they would come forward and say ‘You’re on about Mr Bain aren’t you?’ And then our inquiries which looked into Mr Bain after he’d left Islington revealed another two witnesses who made statements, so there were a total of seven people that were willing to go to court and give evidence against Mr Bain.”
And that is just in this country. In 1995 police found out that Bain was living abroad. He was still abusing children.
“We made inquiries with the Moroccan authorities because he was in Morocco at that time, he used to visit there quite often,” Sweeney told me. “Subsequently I was told he’d been arrested. The police had found photographs of children and him in the same photographs which they considered indecent and he was in prison over there.”
After serving his sentence, Bain was deported to Holland. The police along with the CPS prepared extradition papers, but it failed because of a technical loophole. They’d missed their chance. Despite an international warrant for his arrest Bain disappeared until the 27th of May 2000. He committed suicide in Thailand. The police believe he was still abusing children up until his death.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Mr Bain was a threat to children wherever he was,” states Det Supt Sweeney. “And so I would be very concerned for those children.”
Children were needlessly abused up until three years ago, more than 20 years after Demetrious Panton’s first complaint.
“It’s not so much the abuse that hurts, it’s the fact that he was never forced to say sorry,” insists Demetrious. “It’s the fact that he was never bought to justice. I mean the whole thing about our society is that we know that sometimes bad thing happens, but we passionately believe in our justice systems, and we passionately believe in our democratic systems, and we hope that the two work together hand in hand. Unfortunately I never had justice because of the democratic system in Islington and that will rankle with me until the day that I die.”
STATEMENT FROM MARGARET HODGE:
“Everybody would agree that Mr Panton’s experiences in the 1970’s were dreadful and it is a tribute to him that he continued to pursue his case until the mid 1990’s when the police finally agreed to look into the details.
I was the political leader of the council between 1982 and 1992 and whilst I did not have day to day contact with social services, I have on many occasions, including on the Today Programme, expressed deep regret for those children who were abused in Islington homes over many decades.
Since becoming children’s Minister in June, Angus Stickler and the Today Programme have been constantly telephoning friends and colleagues to dig up details of events which happened between 10 and 20 years ago. The Today programme have failed to interview any of these people who give a contemporary account of events, they have tried and failed to substantiate my involvement in this case when I was leader.
I felt this was becoming a concerted campaign against me, which is why I wrote a letter, I did not publish, to the BBC in September. I am taken aback that the Today programme has chosen to make a letter which was not for publication, public.
I have decided not to appear on the Today Programme today as there is nothing new to say and nothing more that I can add. I am getting on with the important job I have been given, to create a better future for all our children and I have been encouraged by the support and commitment of the professionals with whom I work.”
A social worker who abused two boys at an Islington Council children’s home in the 1970s was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment earlier this week.
Michael Taylor pleaded guilty at London’s Snaresbrook crown court to seven counts of indecent assault at Gisburne House.
When he left Gisburne House he became deputy superintendent of Bersham Hall children’s home in North Wales where he repeatedly assaulted two 11-year-old boys in his care.
Taylor was arrested after the people he abused, now adults, went to the police. He was previously convicted of two indecent assaults in 1980
Roy Caterer jailed
1991: Roy Caterer, who worked at a school used by Islington council for its children in care, is arrested for sexually abusing seven boys and two girls, and is jailed for seven-and-a-half years.
Haut de la Garenne children’s home, pictured in 1905, in Jersey was formerly a centre for children in care or with behaviour problems
By EILEEN FAIRWEATHER
We did, however, prove that every home included staff who were paedophiles, child pornographers or pimps. Concerned police secretly confirmed that several Islington workers were believed “networkers”, major operators in the supply of children for abuse and pornography.
Some of these were from the Channel Islands or regularly took Islington children there on unofficial visits. In light of the grisly discoveries at Haut de la Garenne, the link now seems significant, but at the time we were so overwhelmed by abuse allegations nearer home that this connection never emerged.
What we did report prompted the sort of vehement official denials that have come to characterise child abuse claims. Margaret Hodge, then council leader, denounced us as Right-wing “gutter journalists” who supposedly bribed children to lie.
Paedophile kills himself in Thailand after being accused of sexually abusing 300 boys. I have to ask the disturbing question: Would these boys have suffered if Margaret Hodge’s London council had not protected him ?;
Many years later one victim spoke out, only for Hodge to discredit him as ‘disturbed’. We can reveal the source of this evil slurwas none other than the paedophile who abused him
Mail on Sunday, 11th June 2006
By Eileen Fairweather
The text message from Mike Hames, the former Scotland Yard pornography squad chief, was blunt: ‘Rabet’s topped himself.
It’s made my day.’ It arrived three weeks ago, as I was sitting in a sunny garden with Liz Davies, a woman with whom I had forged a deep and unlikely bond. We hadn’t seen each other for nine months and were talking about our kids.
Then Liz’s mobile phone beeped, drawing us back to a far less pleasant-past, when we both had to deal with the pain of working with abused children.
Liz and I had met in 1992. She was then a social worker who went on to help me and reporter Stewart Payne uncover a paedophile ring that had infiltrated children’s homes run by Islington Council.
We discovered that paedophiles had penetrated the network of homes so completely that they had begun using them to procure children. The council had wanted to encourage gay men into childcare in the interests of equal opportunities, but this well-intentioned aim was so naively implemented that paedophiles posed as gay men to take advantage of the policy.
The council exempted any man who said he was gay from needing professional qualifications or references, declared gay men less likely to abuse children than heterosexuals as a matter of policy and repeatedly as-sumed that any criticisms of men who claimed to be gay were motivated purely by homophobia. Even children who tearfully described abuse were considered prejudiced.
The leader of Islington Council, Margaret Hodge, now a Trade Minister, had refused to believe our investi-gation-even though it was later vindicated by a series of damning independent reports. Her attacks on our investigation, and the fact the council mislaid or refused to believe vital evidence, led to crucial delays which allowed many of those responsible to escape prosecution or punishment. Among them was Nicholas John Rabet, who had fled to Thailand to continue his vile abuse of children. The 57-year-old bachelor was deputy superintendent of one of Islington’s children’s homes until 1989 and had been accused of abusing a boy there. He had strong links with other paedophiles involved in the scandal, some of whom also worked for Islington Council. Yet despite a lengthy police investigation, Rabet was never charged.
Last month, however, his cycle of abuse ended with his suicide in Thailand, days before he was to face trial there. Police found him dead, a plastic bag over his head, his ankles locked together in cuffs, in his rented home in the sordid seaside resort of Pattaya, which has long had a reputation for child-sex tourism. Beside him was a pitiful suicide note. He had killed himself, he wrote, as ‘it is the only way to escape the stress of my life.’ Rabet had been due to face trial for molesting 30 underage Thai boys, some as young as six, and police believed he had abused up to 300 others. When they raided his home, they found 11 com-puter game consoles which he used to lure children, making ‘commission’ payments to those who brought him new victims.
Now, with his death, I feel able to tell for the first time the full horrifying story of what happened in Islington more than a decade ago. The fact Rabet was allowed to escape and go on to abuse children in another country makes me wonder if there is any real justice for vulnerable children in the care of social services.
And it also raises a disturbing question: could the 300 children in Thailand have been saved if Rabet and his cohorts had been jailed so many years ago?
For the first time policemen and social workers have broken their silence to reveal how Islington Council hindered inquiries and, whether through naivety or incompetence, effectively allowed these paedophiles to go free.
At the same time, I can now expose how the council’s policy of actively recruiting gay carers and classing them beyond suspicion was exploited by paedophiles. Mrs Hodge’s social services committee even amend-ed the council’s child protection policy in 1987 to declare abusers of vulnerable children more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual men. It was a disastrous policy of political correctness that effectively protected those who set out to abuse chil-dren and its dangers remain only too relevant today. An independent inquiry later confirmed that the council allowed 26 workers facing ‘extremely serious allega-tions’ to leave Islington without investigation. The council also thwarted attempts by Sussex police to gather evidence against Rabet in the early Nineties, when officers learned that he had supplied a national child sex and pornography ring. Brighton-based Superintendent Kevin Moore said: ‘If we’d had the usual co-operation you expect and de-serve, it’s a very strong likelihood we would have got a conviction. Justice was denied.
‘We are all, in child abuse investigations, in a position of trusting each other to do what’s right but in this case that trust was abused. The most vulnerable children were affected by that and it was disgraceful, dreadful.’ Detective Superintendent John Sweeney took over Islington police’s child protection team after the scandal was exposed and painstakingly traced long-ignored victims. He said: ‘When I first learned about the homes, I thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad. But it was worse.
‘Does Islington share responsibility? Any opportunity to intervene that was lost is an absolute tragedy.’
I met Nick Rabet long before I investigated him, when I visited the children’s activity centre he opened in 1990 on the Sussex Downs. A social worker I knew held his son’s eighth birthday party there and invited my child. He said Rabet was a socialist philanthropist, who had been deputy head of an Islington children’s home but quit to open this lavishly equipped centre on his private manor estate. He invited scores of Islington’s deprived inner city kids to visit. Local social services sent him young offenders to rehabilitate and children’s charities frequently visited. The centre’s facilities were lavish: quad bikes and mini motorbikes, free pinball and football machines, snooker and a disco.
Yet Rabet charged just Pounds 4 per child. How, I asked him, could a London social worker afford a manor and so many staff? Rabet said he inherited the estate through his ex-wife, and he was running the centre as a ‘loss leader’ until established. I felt puzzled. The men helping out didn’t seem to really like children. They were impatient and unkind when one fell. What my instincts told me, even if I didn’t then understand, was that these men had created this honeypot for children for one reason only: so they could use them. But although I resolved never to take my child there again, I did nothing further.
Two years later, I learned that a social worker wanted a journalist to expose Islington social services. Liz Davies arrived for our meeting laden with files in bulging plastic bags.
She had resigned in despair, after being investigated by the council as ‘anti-equal opportunities’ for raising concerns about a supposedly gay worker trying to foster a boy, who later said he was abused. Before leaving Islington, she photocopied the confidential files of numerous children alleging abuse. ‘I had to,’ she said. ‘Islington is destroying evidence.’ She told an extraordinary tale, claiming pimps, paedophiles and pornographers controlled Islington’s 12 care homes. Frankly it seemed so farfetched I didn’t know whether to believe her.
She said that Lyn Cusack, Islington’s assistant director for children’s services, had failed to act, as had the area child protection committee.
Davies nervously showed me a letter Margaret Hodge, then council leader, wrote in 1990, rebuking Davies’ boss for requesting funds to investigate why vulnerable Islington children were visiting a man previously convicted of running a child brothel. Didn’t this prove that Hodge didn’t care? The union wouldn’t help. Unison also feared that the concerns were ‘homophobic’. Staff had nowhere to turn save the Press, and Davies offered secretly to co-ordinate whistleblowers and evidence. ‘I’ll probably never work again,’ she said. ‘But I can’t keep quiet.’ She told me of a major police child pornography inquiry into Rabet, previously deputy superintendent of Islington’s home at 114 Grosvenor Avenue. I remembered the odd man at the children’s party and his creepy friends. I felt sickened. They had touched my child.
I checked Davies’s claims with Superintendent Mike Hames, head of Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad, now the Paedophile Unit, and described my encounter with Rabet. He laughed at Rabet’s claim that he inherited his country pile through a wife. He was a confirmed bachelor, he said. Rabet really acquired it by befriending its elderly owner, an American widow with an oil fortune. She made out her will to him, and died shortly afterwards. That might just seem like good luck, except that one of Rabet’s wealthy paedophile pals, who ‘donated’ Pounds 13,000 to his centre, had an identical modus operandi. Neil Hocquart inherited large sums not once but twice, after elderly men died of heart attacks weeks after bequeathing everything to him. Identifying vulnerable old people to exploit was, police believed, as important to Rabet and his paedophile friends as singling out abuse victims.
At this point I knew I had stumbled across something truly awful. Police had raided the Cambridgeshire homes of two of Rabet’s friends in 1991. They found more than 100 child sex videos and 300 photographs of children at the Swaffham Prior home of Hocquart, a 40-year-old photographer. At nearby Ely they found his friend Walter Clack, 69, a former assistant to onetime Governor of the Bank of England, Robin Leigh-Pemberton, trying to dispose of a sick home video of a middle-aged man abusing a boy. They also discovered that both men regularly ‘volunteered’ at Rabet’s children’s centre.
Hocquart had bought the centre’s quad bikes, took a child he met there on holiday with other men and dis-tributed naked photos of him to the international paedophile network through contacts in Amsterdam. Before police could question Hocquart, he took a fatal overdose. Clack was fined Pounds 5,000 a derisory sum, but child pornography offences were not taken as seriously as today. Hocquart’s diaries suggested the men belonged to a huge ring of paedophiles in the arts, clergy and busi-ness world and that Rabet was a major supplier of victims.
Police then raided Rabet’s Sussex home. Unfortunately, he had time to clear out hard evidence. But paedo-philes are compulsive hoarders and they still found a ‘shrine’, with photos of hundreds of boys. Rabet kept children’s underwear as ‘trophies’. Name-tagged clothes helped lead British police to a boy I shall call Shane, who formerly lived in Rabet’s Islington children’s home. Police showed Shane a picture of himself lying on his bed at the home, chest bare, next to Rabet. Shane tearfully disclosed years of abuse.
What happened next was scandalous.
Islington lost incriminating files, denied there were concerns about other children Rabet took away, and sacked concerned staff. Rabet was never prosecuted. Superintendent Moore says now: ‘Tragically, none of us can say why Islington did what they did.’ But he does not discount its ‘drive to set a political agenda’. Because I had met Rabet, this felt personal. I was determined to prove the children of Islington were being abused. Children’s home worker Neville Mighty answered the phone when Sussex police rang looking for Shane. Management disliked Mighty, a Jamaican with traditional views: he later stormed Lyn Cusack’s office to pro-test about men he called pimps staying overnight with children in care.
Now he began comparing notes with colleagues about Rabet. Islington suddenly accused Mighty of impropriety. He had supposedly touched a girl’s knee and used innuendo. He was sacked and barred for life from working with children a ban he overturned in 1999.
I and colleague Stewart Payne spent three months in 1992 talking to frightened social workers, victims and parents, mostly in grim Islington estates. By the end, we had around 30 whistleblowers. We had to protect the identity of all of them. I sometimes came away from meetings near to tears but Stewart would make me laugh. He said he felt like pouring a bucket of disinfectant over himself. I had sleepless nights and midnight phone calls from people who were too terrified to talk face to face and feared something was going to happen to them.
We found Shane. He was now 20 and in turmoil. He came into care when he was 12, after his mother had a nervous breakdown following years of domestic violence. He felt rejected but Rabet, who wore a silver sher-iff’s badge and instructed the kids to call him The Sheriff, seemed fatherly and fun.
Shane’s mother only asked Islington for brief respite care while ill. But she said: ‘They stole my son, I couldn’t get him back.’ I had started out with the prejudice that anyone whose child ended up in care was feckless, or worse, but she was a decent, honest working class woman. Rabet swamped Shane with expensive gifts and Pounds 30a-week pocket money. ‘I couldn’t compete with that as a single mum,’ his mother said. ‘This man effectivelybribed him, then Shane became frightened to speak out.’ When I met him, Shane played with toys as he talked, repeatedly throwing them into the air. His distress was palpable. Rabet had told him his mother did not want him back, plied him with whiskey and cigarettes, then photographed him after he passed out.
He took Shane at weekends to his Sussex home. Shane hated the abuse but drunkenly bore it as the price of having a father figure. His mother said: ‘I knew it was all wrong and I begged Islington at meeting after meeting to let me take my son home. But they closed ranks and tried to make out I was paranoid. No one believed me.’ I knew five social work whistleblowers did believe her, but I had to protect their identities. Shane kidded himself that Rabet really cared for him. But the day hair grew on his chin, Rabet abruptly lost interest and developed new, younger ‘favourites’. Shane knew then that he had been conned. I felt his mother’s heartbreak. It was clear she had lost her son. But Shane was also heartbroken his emo-tions had been exploited as well as his body.
Police looked for files supporting Shane’s allegation. A worried source in Islington told me what was in the council records, ‘because they’re about to disappear’. The council, he claimed, routinely suppressed the fact that allegations of abuse had been made. The files included letters from Shane’s mother, his headteacher, psychiatrist and social worker to senior management, all protesting about Rabet’s ‘ inappropriate’ relationship with the boy. All clearly feared abuse.
Sure enough, Islington said no relevant files were found. There is no evidence Margaret Hodge had any knowledge of this at this time, or of collusion by managers, although two independent inquiries later con-firmed that files needed by police in three separate child sex ring inquiries did indeed go missing. Islington’s administrative chaos was blamed.
I told police of the files’ contents. Only then, belatedly, did Islington find and produce the documents.
But, shockingly, the council still gave no help to police in tracing and interviewing other likely victims and witnesses. An Islington Labour Party source confided that the investigation was considered ‘homophobic’. Liz Davies secretly met Sussex police officers. ‘I told them everything I knew. They were good officers but seemed overwhelmed by the scale of the investigation.’ I was beginning to feel really angry. I wanted to be wrong about what we thought was going on, but this extraordinary lack of coop-eration and urgency confirmed my worst suspicions.
Nobody was ever prosecuted as police believed they did not have enough evidence. The burden of proof under British law is high and, as Superintendent Moore says: ‘We cannot always use the uncorroborated ev-idence of young people.’ But there was disquiet about the scandal. The independent Ian White report or-dered by the Government confirmed in 1995 that Islington had refused to investigate ‘extremely serious allegations’. It was ‘a deplorable state of affairs’, within a social services department which had disintegrated ‘from top to bottom’. He described Islington as a ‘classic study’ in how paedophiles target children, hugely aided by the council’s naive interpretation of gay rights. ‘Equal opportunities … became a positive disincentive for challenge to bad practice … and a great danger’.
Mrs Hodge’s council was so obsessed with creating equal opportunities that it actively encouraged gay men into childcare and was less likely to view them with suspicion than heterosexual men. However people like Rabet were not gay men, but paedophiles masquerading as such so they could work their way into the system. Mrs Hodge remained in denial. She claimed managers lied to her, no councillors alerted her, and that ‘the issue of the council’s equal opportunities policy as a barrier to good childcare practice was never raised, however obliquely’. She also insisted the police found no evidence of a paedophile ring. The senior officers who investigated find this risible. ‘All the Islington abusers knew and protected each other,’ said Detective Superintendent Sweeney.
Some of the staff accused of abuse then left the country. The managers who had failed to investigate them were allowed to quietly resign from the council and take up new jobs. As their replacements came in there were attempts to look at long-ignored allegations. It was well-intentioned but underfunded and ran out of steam. Also the trail had gone cold.
But offenders were fleeing. Rabet sold his Sussex estate and joined another former Islington children’s home boss in Pattaya three eventually ended up there. Police had his luggage searched at Gatwick and found computer games: Rabet obviously intended to abuse Thai children. Warnings were passed on but the developing country was then illequipped to challenge the thousands of Western ‘child sex tourists’.
Rabet’s friend Bernie Bain, who had been another Islington children’s home boss, went on to join Rabet in Pattaya. Bernard Leo Bain had fled Britain in 1996, just before Detective Superintendent Sweeney could ar-rest him for raping seven young boys in care and was briefly imprisoned in Morocco for child pornography. But he, too, killed himself, in May 2000.
His suicide note expressed only self pity. He was, says Sweeney, ‘depressed about money’.
Incredibly, Bain had gone on from running a caravan business at Islington’s Elwood Street home, widely used by other paedophiles, to co-found a travel company worth millions. I had pursued these men relentlessly because I realised how very dangerous they were to children. It was so immensely frustrating to then learn they had been allowed to escape the net.
Many years later one Islington abuse survivor, Demetrious Panton, did speak out, incredulous at Margaret Hodge’s appointment as Children’s Minister in 2003. He could prove Islington councillors and senior man-agers knew about allegations he made throughout the Eighties that he had been severely abused as a ten-year-old, by Bernie Bain in 1978. Bain resigned from Islington in 1979 with impunity, despite concerns he had numerous other victims.
Yet Mrs Hodge notoriously discredited Panton in a letter to the BBC, painting him as ‘extremely disturbed’. But she never explained the source of her slur against Panton, who is now a highflying consultant. Although there is no evidence this is other than a disconcerting coincidence, I can reveal for the first time that the Islington ‘expert’ who branded Panton disturbed was none other than Bernie Bain.
In February 1978, weeks before Bain first raped Panton, he circulated a report labelling the child a liar and fantasist. It was a character assassination that was to stick: a paedophile’s attempt to save his own skin recycled, however unwittingly, by a Minister. The report is the most evil and premeditated discrediting of a ten-year-old boy. No senior managers were ever disciplined over this scandal. And none of the workers accused of abuse was ever prosecuted. The police, so late in the day, and with suspects fleeing, simply could not accumulate enough evidence.
Assistant director Lyn Cusack resigned for ‘personal reasons’ in 1993. Two councillors admitted Demetrious Panton had described his abuse and asked the council to investigate Bain. But both Mike Devenney, Mrs Hodge’s chair of social services and her acolyte, Stephen Twigg, later said they could not ‘recall’ ever men-tioning abuse to Mrs Hodge. Devenney later became a Disability Commissioner when Mrs Hodge had the disabilities portfolio, and Ste-phen Twigg became her researcher at Westminster, then her junior at the Department for Education. I watched their progress with disbelief. So did whistleblower Liz Davies. My concerns are over accountability and justice for the children. No one was ever held responsible. All the children, their families and the social workers who tried to defend them at enormous personal cost feel betrayed.
Sussex police tried, unsuccessfully, to gather enough evidence so they reluctantly released Rabet from bail. Detective Superintendent Sweeney still laments the failure to prosecute.
He said: ‘I was deeply affected by how much pain and trauma these men inflicted on really young children. They were brutal.’ But he hopes that councils who are now actively recruiting gay foster carers will be more rigorous in their vetting processes than Islington was. He said: ‘I wouldn’t say gay couples can’t foster. But people must learn the lessons of Islington. These weren’t social workers or gay people; these were paedophiles posing as gay to escape detection.’ Hundreds of children suffered horribly, in Britain and Thailand, so that the idealistic incompetents who ran Islington Council could boast they had pioneered ‘equal opportunities’.
What a very high price defenceless Thai children paid, so that Margaret Hodge and her people could state that no Islington abuser was convicted. Liz Davies, now a senior lecturer in social work at London Metropolitan University, is at least teaching a new generation of social workers to be more vigilant.
Yes Minister, you were told about child abuse in the care homes, yet you refused to listen;
SPECIAL STANDARD INVESTIGATION: When Margaret Hodge led Islington council, she knew about sex abuse in care homes under her control. Yet she kept quiet and pilloried social workers who raised concerns. Now the original whistleblower wants the Minister for Children brought to account.
Evening Standard, 30th June 2003
By David Cohen
IMMEDIATELY after Tony Blair appointed Margaret Hodge as the new Minister for Children in his recent reshuffle, phones started ringing among former social workers who had once worked under her. “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the chickens,” one commented in disgust. “A sick joke,” remarked another.
These social workers couldn’t help recalling the inside story of an appalling child sex abuse scandal many of us have forgotten. In 1990, when Mrs Hodge – then Mr Blair’s neighbour in Richmond Crescent, Islington – was the leader of Islington council, these senior social workers had reported to her that a paedophile ring was operating in the borough and that children were being sexually abused in Islington care homes.
Mrs Hodge’s response was revealing: she chose not to back a thorough investigation. Instead, she dismissed their concerns and accused these social workers of being ” obsessional”.
When the story was exposed in the Evening Standard two-andahalf years later, in October 1992, her re-sponse was equally aggressive. She accused the newspaper of “a sensationalist piece of gutter journalism”. It would be a further two-and-a-half years and five independent reports later before she would half-heartedly admit that she was wrong. Yet she would have known as early as 1991 that paedophiles were preying on children in Islington’s care.
In 1991, Roy Caterer, a sports instructor at a boarding school used by Islington, was arrested and sent to prison for seven-anda-half years for abusing seven boys and two girls, some of them in Islington’s care. Caterer admitted to police that he had abused countless Islington children over many years.
In 1995, an independent report prepared by Ian White, Oxfordshire’s director of social services, utterly vin-dicated the Evening Standard. It lambasted the council and confirmed that the social workers and the Stand-ard, whose reporters went on to win prestigious press awards, were right. It said, in part: “The inquiry has charted an organisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was chaotic. Such a chaotic organisation breeds the conditions for dangerous and negligent professional practices in relation to child care.”
Mrs Hodge led Islington council from 1982 to 1992.
What the Standard uncovered – after taping hours of interviews with staff, parents, children and police over a three-month period – was a horrendous dereliction of duty by the council that routinely exposed the most vulnerable children in its care to paedophiles, pimps, prostitutes and pornographers.
What the Standard and the White report found inexcusable was the council’s refusal – led by Margaret Hodge – to listen and act when experienced staff and terrified children tried to articulate what was going on. Their testimonies lifted the lid on horrific events that were taking place in Islington: teenagers selling sex from their council homes, a girl knifed by a sexual abuser inside a children’s unit, a girl and a boy who shared a bed with a known paedophile, a 15-year-old boy fostered with a suspected paedophile – overriding the vociferous protests of social workers – who later sexually abused the boy as predicted. We could go on and on.
The tragedy was that from the moment these children came to live in the seemingly safe children’s homes under the care of Islington council, they became fair game.
Some of the very people who were supposed to protect them were involved in their sexual abuse. On top of all this, the social workers who tried to protect them were pilloried by Margaret Hodge and her social services directors. The damage done to such children is beyond comprehension.
But the story of the Islington child sex abuse scandal would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the brave actions of a single secret whistleblower. Until today, the identity of this whistleblower has remained a secret. Nobody outside a tiny coterie of key players knew who he – or she – was. And so it would have remained. But in the wake of Mrs Hodge’s appointment as Minister for Children, the whistleblower has decided to blow her cover. She doesn’t come to this decision lightly.
But so indignant is she at this ” cynical appointment” that she has decided to tell – for the first time – the full story of what really happened.
She wants us to know the truth about our new Minister for Children. For Mrs Hodge and her management team were never made properly accountable for what happened to the children whom they failed. Instead, the whistleblower and her supporters were marginalised, whereas Mrs Hodge is now a rising star in government.
The whistleblower’s identity, we can reveal, is Liz Davies, 55. She is now a successful senior lecturer in so-cial work at London Metropolitan University.
But back in 1990, Liz Davies was the senior social worker heading up a team of six in the Irene Watson Neighbourhood Office, one of 24 similarly decentralised council offices in Islington. In speaking out, she is joined by another insider who has also hitherto remained silent – her former ally and manager, David Cofie, 63. Other social workers from that time in Islington are prepared to support the position taken by Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie.
“Margaret Hodge definitely knew everything right from the start, and by ‘start’ I mean more than two years before it was exposed in your newspaper,” begins Mrs Davies, talking to the Standard in north London. “She knew as early as April 1990 that we had uncovered serious evidence of sexual abuse among children in our care and yet she chose not to pursue our investigation.”
Her story starts at the beginning of the Nineties. “I noticed that there was a sudden unexpected increase in vulnerable teenagers coming to our office to see social workers,” recalls Mrs Davies. “They’d be crying and depressed and they didn’t want to talk. I didn’t understand it. We spent a lot of time engaging with these children and began to closely investigate their lives.”
Soon Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie began to realise that sexual abuse was part of the picture.
“The children were displaying classic symptoms of sexual abuse and we started to hear disturbing stories of a paedophile ring. At this point, we had no idea as to the scale of the network, or that the children’s homes – under our control – were involved. We began working closely with the Islington Child Protection officers and following local and national child protection procedures to the letter.”
Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies collated the information in a series of reports that were presented to the directors of social services. They responsibly asked for additional funds for two youth workers to be seconded to their team to help with investigations, which were snowballing and threatening to overwhelm them. But their request drew an icy rebuke from their council leader. In a memo to the head of Isington’s social services, John Rea Price (a copy of which is in the possession of the Standard), dated April 1990 – written on “Islington council leader’s office” stationery and from “Margaret Hodge, Leader” – Mrs Hodge wrote the following: “Sexual Abuse in Irene Watson Area: David Cofie raised the issue of sexual abuse among eight- to 16-year-old children at the Neighbourhood Forum. He is clearly concerned about the matter. However, simply requesting more resources is not, in my view, responsible for a manager given the well known concern of members at the state of the Social Services budget. I expect more appropriate responses from people in management positions in Social Services. The obvious option for your management to consider in relation to this emerging problem in the area is to reduce the fieldwork staffing to release resources for a detached youth worker in the area. I await your response.”
“We couldn’t believe it,” recalls Mrs Davies. “We were grappling with this enormous problem and all she was concerned about was balancing her budget. It boggles the mind. It was as if we were talking about park benches, not children.”
Because this critical memo was not made available to Standard reporters at the time of the investiga-tion-only coming to light years later, in May 1995, Mrs Hodge was never made to explain how it was she knew about the allegations of abuse for over two years without fully pursuing them.
David Cofie, in a separate interview, says that the standard procedure would have been for the matter to be referred to the child protection committee for a full investigation, but that this did not happen. Mr Cofie says that Mrs Hodge resisted his requests that the matter be properly investigated on three separate occasions. “The first occasion was when I decided the only responsible thing was to alert the community to the fact that paedophiles were operating in the area,” he recalls. “I wrote a short, subtly-worded report that was to be dis-tributed to the Neighbourhood Forum, which is open to members of the public. Well, Margaret Hodge went apeshit. She started screaming and shouting at me and refused to discuss it. I later heard that she had rub-bished me to colleagues behind my back, saying that I was exaggerating the sexual abuse claims and trying to make a name for myself.
But my colleagues told her, ‘David would never do that. If anything, he’s one of the most overcautious managers we have.’ ” In May 1990, Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies were summoned to a meeting convened by Islington’s assistant director of social services, Lyn Cusack. “By now,” says Mrs Davies, “we knew that the picture was far worse than initially imagined. I had learned that children in our care were being taken to homes in the country on weekends. It was highly suspicious, and I would later discover that they were being used to make child pornography and that people who ran our homes were getting paid in hard cash. But we were criticised as ‘hysterical’ and told in no uncertain terms to stop interviewing children and to cease child protection conferences forthwith.”
Mrs Davies and Mr Cofie continued to investigate regardless. They wrote and submitted 15 detailed reports but maintain their superiors still did not believe them. When the paedophile Roy Caterer, whose name Mrs Davies passed to the police, went to prison, Mr Cofie said to Mrs Davies: “Now they’ve got to believe us.” But Mrs Hodge and Lyn Cusack and their acolytes – inexplicably – still weren’t interested. The crunch for Mrs Davies came when she was ordered to place a “looked-after” seven-year-old boy in a home that was run by someone she had raised concerns about and considered unsafe. Her position had become untenable.
At the same time, she had started having a recurring nightmare. In the dream, Mrs Davies would be drinking a lovely glass of cold white wine that would suddenly turn into jagged pieces of glass that cut her throat to bloody ribbons. A friend told her: “It’s obvious, Liz, it’s all too much for you to swallow.”
In February 1992, Mrs Davies resigned in despair and took her information to Mike Hames, then head of Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Unit. He commenced an investigation, subsequently exposed in the Standard by Eileen Fairweather and Stewart Payne. More than 50 reports were published in the paper – which Mrs Hodge scornfully condemned – leading eventually to five independent inquiries.
It was another two-and-a-half years before the damning White report would be published – singling out and naming 22 people who worked for Islington and whose names were never published. Mrs Hodge went on the record to say that she was led astray, that her only fault was in believing her senior officers like Lyn Cu-sack. Those on the inside – like Mrs Davies – have always believed this was a fudge.
The critical April 1990 memo, which we reprint above, shows that Mrs Hodge’s claim is, at the very least, an oversimplification. It shows that when Mrs Hodge was directly presented with details of the sexual abuse allegations uncovered by Mr Cofie and Mrs Davies, she was apparently more concerned with allocating re-sources than addressing the substance of the allegations.
By the time the White report was published, Mrs Hodge had moved on. She would take up a top job in the City, then become MP for Barking, and later Minister for Higher Education. And now she is Minister for Chil-dren. David Cofie, on the other hand, stayed on at Islington until he retired in 1998.
So did Mrs Hodge ever thank Mr Cofie for the role he played in bringing to light this appalling scandal?
” Hodge never thanked me,” Mr Cofie says. “Nor did she apologise. Even though she had wrecked my ca-reer, frozen me out, made me persona non grata.
She was never a big enough person to say to me, ‘I am sorry for how I treated you. I was wrong. Thank you for what you did to save those children.’ ” Mrs Davies is even more scathing.
“It beggars belief to think that Tony Blair has awarded Hodge the highest job in the land for protecting the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens.
Blair was her neighbour at the time. He must remember her appalling record.
What in heaven’s name was he thinking?”
How scandal unfolded
1982: Margaret Hodge becomes leader of Islington council
February 1990: Liz Davies and David Cofie, senior Islington social workers, uncover evidence of sexual abuse of children, and report it to a Neighbourhood Forum which council leader Margaret Hodge attends as ward councillor.
April 1990: Hodge memos Cofie’s boss, John Rea Price, the director of social services: “David Cofie raised the issue of sexual abuse among eight-to 16-year-old children. He is clearly concerned. However, simply requesting more resources is not responsible for a manager given the concern of members at the state of the social services budget. I expect more appropriate responses from people in management positions in social services”.
May 1990: At a key meeting chaired by Lyn Cusack, assistant director of social services, Cofie and Davies are told to cease interviewing children and to stop convening child protection conferences
1991: Roy Caterer, who worked at a school used by Islington council for its children in care, is arrested for sexually abusing seven boys and two girls, and is jailed for seven-and-a-half years. Cofie and Davies ask social services for resources to help the victims, but receive no reply
February 1992: Davies resigns and takes her information to Scotland Yard
6 October 1992: A Standard investigation reveals that a 15-year-old girl worked as a prostitute from a coun-cil home; a 16-year-old was made pregnant at a teenage unit by a man suspected of involvement in a child sex ring; a girl was knifed by a pimp at an Islington home; and a boy was abused for years by a volunteer instructor
14 October 1992: Hodge says of the Standard’s investigation: “The way they chose to report this was gutter journalism … The story misled the public on the quality of childcare services in the borough”
23 October 1992: Hodge steps down as council leader to take up a post as a senior consultant with ac-countancy firm Price Waterhouse
3 March 1993: The Press Complaints Commission rejects all Islington’s complaints against the Standard
11 February 1994: Hodge admits to the Standard: “You were right that there was abuse in the children’s homes,” and blames her initial response on “misleading” information from senior officers and colleagues
23 May 1995: Report by Ian White, Oxfordshire director of social services, backs the Standard and says care-home workers were able to corrupt children in part because Islington’s ideological policies prevented complaints being investigated. Hodge responds: “I have had no involvement with Islington council for three years. It would be inappropriate for me to comment”
26 May 1995: Hodge tells Radio 4: “Of course I accept responsibility. I was leader of the council at the time”
13 June 2003: Hodge becomes Minister for Children
27 June 2003: Hodge tells Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4: “I don’t think that any of us recognised the danger of child abuse in children’s homes to the extent that we’re aware of it now. I’ve learned from my fail-ure to understand at that time”